St. Lucia Saffron Buns

HolidayBakingSwedishBread

Swedish Christmastime favorite, saffron infused S shaped sweet rolls, for St. Lucia Day.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

December 13, St. Lucia Day, also known as the Festival of Light, is a day of celebration in Sweden, in the spirit of Advent and Christmas. Young girls are dressed in white robes with a red sash, with one girl selected as “Lucia” who wears a crown of lit candles (or battery powered ones), the others carrying a single candle. Processions with singing and revelry abound.

At home, the eldest girl dresses up in robe, sash, and candle crown, and delivers coffee and lussekatter, or S shaped saffron buns to her parents for breakfast.

This was all explained to me the other day by a young Swedish woman named Lisa Persson in college here in Sacramento, a long way from home. She spoke of these saffron buns with such nostalgia, I just had to make some.

St. Lucia Buns

The rolls are lightly sweet, buttery, and vibrant yellow from the saffron-infused dough. The raisins in the “eyes” of the rolls give them just a little extra sweetness when you bite into them.

Through my research I’ve seen many complaints that lussekatter can be dry or dense. The rolls I present to you here are neither; I limit the amount of sugar and fat in the recipe, the overuse of which can contribute to making yeasted breads dense.

Of course the rolls are best freshly baked. I would recommend making the dough the night before, refrigerating it over night, and then baking the rolls in the morning. Otherwise, the rolls do reheat very well with just a few seconds in the microwave. Enjoy! (p.s. this is a delightful video on the tradition of Swedish Lucia)

St. Lucia Saffron Buns Recipe

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  • Prep time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
  • Cook time: 12 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 12 to 14 buns

This recipe makes 12 to 14 good sized buns. You can easily double the recipe. Note the cardamom is optional. I've made these buns with and without a little cardamom and I  prefer them with. I'm guessing it's more traditional without.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup milk (175 ml)
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup (50 g) white, granulated sugar
  • One 1/4-ounce packet active dry yeast (check the expiration date on the package to make sure it's still good!)
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups (490 g to 570 g) all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • The seeds from 3 cardamom pods, ground (optional)
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick, 4 Tbsp, 56 g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup of sour cream (or quark if available)
  • 2 large eggs
  • Raisins

Glaze

  • 1 egg, beaten

Method

1 Heat milk, saffron, sugar: In a small pot, heat the milk, saffron, and 1 teaspoon of sugar together until the milk is steamy. Remove from heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Let cool until about 115°F, or warm to the touch, but not hot.

2 Sprinkle the yeast over the warm saffron-infused milk and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes until foamy.

3 Whisk flour, sugar, salt, cardamom: In the bowl of a stand-up mixer* whisk together 3 1/2cups (490 g) of the flour, remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, salt and ground cardamom (if using).

*You can make this recipe without a mixer, for me it's just a bit easier with one.

4 Make a well in the center of the flour and add the yeast milk saffron mixture, the eggs, the butter, and the sour cream. Mix the ingredients until well incorporated.

5 Knead the dough: Switch to the dough hook of your mixer (if using, otherwise knead by hand). On low speed start to knead the dough. Slowly add additional flour, a tablespoon at a time, kneading to incorporate after each addition. Do this until the dough is still a little sticky to the touch, but does not completely stick to your hands when you handle it.

6 Let dough rise: Shape the dough into a ball and place in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. (Note at this point you can make ahead and refrigerate overnight if you wish.)

Let sit in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size. (One way to tell that the dough is ready is that you poke your finger in it and it takes quite a bit of time for the indentation left by your finger to go away.)

7 Form dough into S shapes: When the dough has doubled in size, gently press it down and knead it a couple of times. Break off a piece and form it into a ball about 2 inches wide (60 to 70 grams if you are weighing). Roll the ball out into a snake, about 14 inches long.

Then Curl the ends in opposite directions, forming an "S" with spirals at each end. Place on a lined baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the dough.

8 Let sit for second rise:  Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough shapes double in size, 30 minutes to an hour.

9 Brush with egg wash, place raisins on buns: Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C). Using a pastry brush, brush some beaten egg over the tops and sides of the uncooked buns. Place raisins in the centers of the "S" spirals.

10 Bake: Place in the oven and bake at400°F (205°C) for about 10 to 11 minutes (turning halfway through cooking to ensure even browning), until the buns are golden brown.

Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before eating.

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Links:

Swedish Lucia for Dummies - a tongue in cheek video about Swedish traditions of St. Lucia Day

Swedish Tea Ring or Coffee Bread - here on Simply Recipes

Lussekatter or St. Lucia Rolls - an in-depth explanation of the history surrounding St. Lucia on My Diverse Kitchen

Light in the Dark of Winter - from Foodie Underground

Whole Wheat St. Lucia Saffron Buns - from Texanerin

St. Lucia Buns

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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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32 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  • Jennifer

    Hi! My dough turned out super sticky and I can’t shape the buns. I do not have a standing mixer, other than that, I’m not sure what I did wrong. Can I fix it?

  • Christianne

    Very tasty! The dough is very lovely to work with (I knead by hand) and the resulting buns are light, fluffy and flavourful. I made them without the cardamom and subbed plain 6% yogurt for the sour cream.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Cinzia

    Hi, I have made these buns for a few years with varying success. When they work they’re great. When the don’t, I’m sure I did something wrong.

    Anyhow, my husband just was diagnosed with Celiac disease, so now I have to try to make them gluten-free. Anyone tried to substitute the flour with any luck?

    Thanks!

  • Ylva

    I have made lots of “lussebullar” every year since my childhood (I am Swedish). I use quark and eggs in the dough, have done this for the last 15 years. The buns do stay more moist. They don’t get dry if you don’t want to put them in the freezer at once. We like them better this way.

  • susanne

    Dont use quark/sour cream. Swedish dairy companies had surplus quark and tried to found new uses for it and said it made the buns more moist. But thats not true.
    So quark are no longer used in Sweden because the pastry chefs have debunked the dairy companies.
    Grind whole saffron threads with some sugar in a pestle and mortar before adding it to warm milk.

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